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When It Comes to Israel, “We Are Not One,” Author Writes, But of Many Minds

Allan C. Brownfeld, Editor
Special Interest Report
September - October 2008

“Jews are perhaps the world’s most famously disputatious people,” writes Eric Alterman, professor of English and journalism at Brooklyn College and of journalism at City University of New York’s graduate school, in Moment (July/August 2008). “How is it possible, then, that on what is perhaps the most contentious issue of all — the shape and solution to the endless wound that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — we are ‘as one’?”  
Alterman notes that, “When I was growing up in the 1970s ... it was verboten to criticize Israel in public company ... I received this lesson in every Jewish forum I attended, including Hebrew school, social events, seders and teen tours to Israel. I took these lessons seriously ... Looking back, I’m struck by the un-Jewishness of the lessons I’d been taught. Since when do Jews instruct other Jews — or anyone for that matter — not to ask questions.”  
In the past 30 years, Alterman writes, “much has changed ... but too much has not. Although today most Jewish organizations accept — albeit only rhetorically — the need for the creation of a Palestinian state, much about the conflict remains unsayable and, for many unaskable. Indeed, the unanimity on key questions among official Jewry is as impressive as it is depressing. Try to find a spokesperson in good standing from a Jewish organization who would be willing to say that the West Bank settlements are the primary obstacles to peace, or that Israel ought to negotiate with Hamas, or that the Palestinians who lost their homes in 1948 deserve a ‘right of return’ (however unworkable that may be in practice), or perhaps Israel would benefit from a little tough love from the U.S. when it comes to moving forward, or that Walt and Mearsheimer made some useful points (even though they overshot their mark), or even that ‘Munich’ was a pretty good movie. Perhaps all of the above notions are indeed morally, intellectually and politically mistaken. But unspeakable? Needless to say, this is not only intellectually indefensible, it’s also impractical, given that most people — including most Jews, according to survey after survey — don’t buy it.”  
To the repeated declaration that all Jews — whether Orthodox or Reform, Americans or Israelis — “are one,” Alterman declares: “This, too is nonsense. ... We don’t even agree on what a Jew is, much less what a Jew believes. How is it possible, then, that what is perhaps the most contentious issue of all — the shape and solution to ... the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — we are ‘as one’?”  
Noting that he has joined the Board of Advisers of the new lobbying group JStreet, Alterman writes that, “... its goals are considerably more authentically Jewish than those of AIPAC. But nothing is more basic to Talmudic principles than to embrace the reality of multiple voices in any significant conversation, and even were that not the case, it would still be reality. We are not one. We are many. And thank God for that.”

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